Quantcast

New EPA Asbestos Rule Falls Short of Full Ban

Health + Wellness
A new EPA rule on asbestos does not say anything about the asbestos currently in the environment. Bob Allen / Getty Images

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) passed a new rule on asbestos Wednesday that it says will "close the door" on new, unapproved uses. But public health advocates warn the rule could actually open the door to increased use of the carcinogenic fibrous material.


The Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) would require any company seeking to manufacture or import asbestos for any of 15 discontinued purposes would need to get the approval of the EPA. The regulation also includes a blanket rule requiring review for "any use of asbestos not previously identified," The New York Times reported.

"Prior to this new rule, EPA did not have the ability to prevent or restrict certain asbestos products from being reintroduced into the market," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement reported by The New York Times.

However, some public health advocates worry that the rule creates a mechanism by which companies can introduce new uses of asbestos as long as they get approval.

"This toothless regulation requires companies to seek approval from EPA to resume manufacturing, importing, and processing of asbestos for 15 obsolete uses. It does not ban these uses, but leaves the door open to their return to the marketplace. To think that any company would willingly attempt to resurrect these 15 obsolete asbestos uses is ludicrous. That EPA would enable it is unconscionable," Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization President Linda Reinstein said in a statement.

Reinstein also noted that the rule does not cover existing uses of asbestos, such as its use by the Chlor-Alkiki industry. It also does nothing about the asbestos left in schools, homes and offices from when the material was widely used as an insulator and flame retardant.

Assistant administrator at the EPA's chemical office Alexandra Dunn told CNN that the agency was still reviewing current uses of asbestos and might propose additional regulations or bans. A few days before the new rule was announced, Wheeler told the House Energy and Commerce Committee he would ban current uses, The New York Times reported, but health advocates like Reinstein argue that Wednesday's rule does not qualify.

Consumer protection groups have spent a decade lobbying for a law change that would empower the EPA to fully ban asbestos, which kills between 12,000 and 39,275 Americans each year. When an amendment to the Toxic Substances Control Act was finally passed in 2016, requiring the EPA to assess and regulate chemicals and enabling it to do so based exclusively on their health and environmental impacts, advocates hoped a ban was in sight.

Asbestos was added to the first 10 chemicals to be assessed under the amendment, but when the EPA first issued its proposed SNUR in June 2018, advocates were disappointed. Some employees voiced concerns the rule could open the door to new asbestos uses.

The final rule is stronger than the original proposal, The New York Times pointed out, because it requires approval for any new use, not just one of 15 former uses. Some public health advocates do think it is a good start.

"Most of the things coming out of the EPA these days aren't good," retired EPA employee and current Environmental Protection Network member Gary Timm told CNN, "but their asbestos work is so well documented." However, he also thought a full ban would be a logical next step.

Environmental Working Group legislative attorney Melanie Benesh also thought a full ban was in order.

"This new rule makes it more difficult for industry to resume some abandoned uses of asbestos, but that is a half step at best," Benesh said in a statement. "Administrator Wheeler should use the authority under the new Toxic Substances Control Act law and ban all uses of asbestos. That is the only way the public can trust industry will never again be able to use this dangerous material that has literally killed tens of thousands of Americans."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Logging state in the U.S. is seen representing some of the consequences humans will face in the absence of concrete action to stop deforestation, pollution and the climate crisis. Mark Newman / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

Talk is cheap, says the acting executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, who begged governments around the world to make sure that 2020 is not another year of conferences and empty promises, but instead is the year to take decisive action to stop the mass extinction of wildlife and the destruction of habitat-sustaining ecosystems, as The Guardian reported.

Read More
The people of Kiribati have been under pressure to relocate due to sea level rise. A young woman wades through the salty sea water that flooded her way home on Sept. 29, 2015. Jonas Gratzer / LightRocket via Getty Images

Refugees fleeing the impending effects of the climate crisis cannot be forced to return home, according to a new decision by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, as CNN reported. The new decision could open up a massive wave of legal claims by displaced people around the world.

Read More
Sponsored
The first day of the Strike WEF march on Davos on Jan. 18, 2020 near Davos, Switzerland. The activists want climate justice and think the WEF is for the world's richest and political elite only. Kristian Buus / In Pictures via Getty Images

By Ashutosh Pandey

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is returning to the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the 2020 World Economic Forum with a strong and clear message: put an end to the fossil fuel "madness."

Read More
Protesters attend a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court held by the group Our Children's Trust Oct. 29, 2018 in Washington, DC. The group and the plaintiffs have vowed to keep fighting and to ask the full Ninth Circuit to review Friday's decision to toss the lawsuit. Win McNamee / Getty Images

An appeals court tossed out the landmark youth climate lawsuit Juliana v. United States Friday, arguing that the courts are not the place to resolve the climate crisis.

Read More
The land around Red Knoll near Kanab, UT that could have been razed for a frac sand mine. Tara Lohan

By Tara Lohan

A sign at the north end of Kanab, Utah, proclaims the town of 4,300 to be "The Greatest Earth on Show."

Read More